Letters from Venice – Part X

January 7, 1983

Anna and Louisa were slated to arrive in Venice tonight at 7:00. Alvise, poised with flowers and I with an unabashed grin awaited as the 7:30 train from Trieste arrived in the station repleat with leering outlookers and No Judges…Tomorrow morning there is a train from Yugoslavia. But I only wonder where they are tonight?

Two days ago, Sandy and I went to Padova and saw Giotto’s fresco-encrusted Capella Scrovegni and the Basilica del Santo, magnificent.

Capella Scrovegni

Last night, I took Sandy out for dinner at Montin’s, the occasion being commissioned by her departure from Venice this morning at 11:40. I was very saddened, “I was sad” as Sandy so charmingly says, to say good-bye to one who has been my best friend here in Venice, she was someone I could always count on to do things with, and ventured to many places others don’t dare. I send my best wishes to her via air waves. I hope she gets a job in Rome with the Daily American – that would be a terrific boost to her morally and financially. Though I guess not really so terrific financially, Sandy introduced me to more people in the 1 ½ months we knew each other than anyone else in Venice has. And she knew the most interesting people. I hope/trust I will see them all again.

And so, the riccio sits in the fridge awaiting Anna as do I (though not from the fridge). Sylvano  reappeared again today, like a Fuller brush salesman returning to his best customer – whatever the hell that means, though I’ve been speaking Italian somewhat, I was surprised at how tongue-tied I was today. Partially contributed to by the fact that I am feeling molto distacca da lui sessualemente. I just realized after talking to MWM the other day that it’s not worth it to me to play these petty little flirtations when I’m not even attracted to him powerfully, except as an interesting intellectual playmate – for that we are well suited. I just won’t let myself be bullied.

Letters from Venice:

What a happy coincidence, that the first letter I picked up was this one.
Letter to Bob:  Labeled “Part 1, stay tuned!!!”

Postmark dated Jan. 1983 (day unreadable)

Dear Bom [sic]

Really, what the fuck was that? I’m blushing. Try again…..Dear Bubberdoobyduckydart! Oh I love you Bob! Stern! I can’ tell you how joyous your pink pelican pouch of love made me. I feel a little silly. This measly little aerogramme hardly seems abastanza in ritorno! We’ll see. Or Vediamo.

Your carta di Natale era bellissima, e benfatto…. Ho travato il cuoro rosso nel centro. E? Rotto? Oppure semplicemente malscritto? Spero che hai sbagliato con la stampa, e infatti, il tuo cuoro non e rotto.

But from the sound of your letter, rumors of which I had heard from Susan, this was perhaps not merely a typo….I can only say I’m very sorry, B ob, that things didn’t work out, but also it’s better to realize that now? But it doesn’t make it any easier, I know. What you said was very lucid, I think it would be a mistake to stay living and “loving” in 55 Park Place- please live with Gary & Michele – I can’t think of two better people whom you could build a very warm home with, however temporary until June. I’m sure, I hope, that your relationship (platonic) with Bill would improve without that separate tension – do the divorce, then mend the fence…. (Thanks, Abby!)
The thought of you quasi-solo at Xmas time made me very sad – I can’t stand seeing good things wasted – damn, damn, damn. I had a party Xmas eve while waiting for Mom to arrive Xmas day, which needed you! It was a good party, but drinking gets fairly dull. My Christmas with Mom was pretty good – I was shocked by how wiped out by the trip she was. I got a letter from her today so I know she’s survived. She said she had a good time, but the letter felt a little formaloso…. Ah well, it can never be the way you plan/dream it!
I am working now – in the morning doing interviews for the hotels that I’m looking at for this guidebook I’m collaborating on. It is fascinating. And well paid, though that harvest hasn’t yet come in. I heard yesterday from Ed the Funk, who is living at home, working 60-65 hrs/week in a warehouse and had been studying for his GRE’s. He’s going to apply to Grad Schools…. he and Raquel are doing well…. together again. He thanked me for the tape of Nightstage, which I had totally forgotten about doing or sending. That made me quite Newstage –sick, MWM sick, etc. But it was good to hear from Eddie. He is really embarrassed about going back to school. Oh hell, why does everyone have these “should” complexes about what they should be doing? They are doing what they are doing now. They will do what they will do. Now, take me, Miss perfection…. I am doing nothing that will advance my Career. I am meeting people, having fun, seeing a lot, and maybe learning Italian. But when I come back to the US (Yes, I still plan to do that in July) I think I will look for a job in Washington, DC – I know this is a jump – Damn. Stay tuned – I’ll continue on another aerogramme. Ciao, Bello!
xoxo  Els

Letter to Bob labeled “Part 2 wherein the author describes future plans & passions

Postmarked Jan. 14, 1983

Dear Bobby,

Now where was I. I was talking about when I come back to USA. I got a letter from Bob Edgar who moved to Washington, DC and works for Wolf Trap Center. He had a job for me in January. But if he still has a job I will go there in July. Now…MWM…I am more in love and more uncertain…scared than ever visa-vi MWM. He is coming in May and may stay until July when I go back. I do want to make a go of it with him wherever. I don’t want to live in New York, but I want to see how he’s doing. It’s so weird being here without him—sometimes I get scared that our idyllic relationship was a figment of our mutual imaginations. Obviously I can’t make any decisions based on only three months with him and so far, four without. I know I love working with him, and I support his work and he mine. Yes, I have met other men here –no, no one has touched MWM in my mind – I really think he’s an incredible individual. Anyway back to the job issue. I will go to Washington if there is a job – I will definitely want to talk with you about where you’ll be going –if to Yale, etc. When you come to Venice (I wonder if he noticed how subtly and easily that sentence co-opted Bob Stern to come to Venice?) …Seattle has all the old appeal of the Old West, and I could be coerced into going there to live. Susan says she’s planned my baggage move to Hopewell, but I couldn’t work at McCarter, I don’t think.

I think we need a conference –can you come to Venice, bring MWM, Susan, Bill and 4 sharp pencils? I have found out where all the good conference facilities are.

It started to snow today, but it was so pathetic, it was barely noticeable. But I noticed! It even made me get that happy first-snow feeling.

Anna and I are having a rough honeymoon- Poor Louisa seems really tired out and sometimes a bit short-tempered. I hardly blame her – she has quite a bundle of a 6-year-old…I am counting the days until July – I wish I knew more Origami. We have carnival to plan for, too. Wee are going as due porcini and uno porchino. (Get out yer dictionary, it’s really quite clever – I was berry proud).

Allora; siamo arrivati al fine di questo discorso, questo saggia. Scrivero di piu nel futuro. Fai la stessa roba, ok? Oppure vienei qui e noi possiamo parlare noi stessi…

Skiddly doo dad a. Good fortune and find a cozy housetta in Princeton to share with Gary & Michelle. Thank you for your magnificentary epistolary spedition. I hope I have given you enough nitty gritty – I realize none is very specific, but that I keep daily in my journal, which will be published in July – color of napkins at the luncheon table, etc…. I love you!  Ciao, Els xoxox

January 11, 1983

Coming back to write in this journal A.A. (after Anna). I see the closing sentence of my last entry, and it seems to be my theme song. The first two days of Anna were incredibly rough, due to a bad case of jet lag, culture shock, parental change, any number of factors. But today, Anna was one of the happiest kids I’ve seen around. She had glowing reports from her teachers, who said she was 100% more responsive today. Louisa and I had a great talk tonight – I’m in a very luck position, hired by someone who is sensitive to not dream of taking advantage of me, and we will settle into a very workable arrangement, I’m sure. Lots of mail these days, from MWM, Susan, Tim Stone. I guess just the rebound after my partying over Christmas, and worrying that I’ll be dropped out of the social scene, though there is no reason to fear that. A liberal dose of insecurity goes a long way.

Incredible letter from Kaja on Sunday, with the news of her imminent return to Bali & Indonesia. I never dreamed of such exotic end for Kaja, or for myself, for that matter. She talks of perhaps coming to Venice – what a wild reunion that would be. Ah, dreams!

Letters from Venice – Part IX

December 14, 1982

Sunday, two days ago, was perhaps my coming out party in Venice. Sandy had a lovely party at James Mathis and Verena Freu’s apartment in Campo S. Vio, near the Anglican Church, wherein I had my theatrical debut as well.

Campo S. Vio

At James and Verena’s earlier in the day, we cooked and ate lunch, and I met Geoffrey, an English painter-hedonist-shockeur who invented seedy sides to some of the loveliest people I’ve met in Venice. Anyway, he roped me into reading at the Christmas Carol sing at the Anglican Church, Mathew verses 1-11 to the most devout Episcopalians I’ve met since St. Paul’s School. Each reader bowed or bobbed or nodded or inclined at the altar before reading , and all read with various personal inflections of English – I, the last and only American of the readers, was frightfully aware of the sharp edges to my words. But then last night, in the Vaporetto, speaking of Carol Bertrand’s very nasal lecture (American from California a la Libbet Lewis) said that when Americans speak, they “sing,” which was a lovely, if unique viewpoint on the difference between English and American speakers. Anyway, back to Church. The organist so butchered the Christmas carols by playing them at a lugubrious 17 rpms, that all conceivable joy was sopped from Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Also, I was seized by giggles because my friend Sylvano was there and had to share the hymnal with an incredibly uptight old biddy named Jeanne di Bianco – the next day I saw why I had recognized her. She is the president of the Circolo Bretannica in Venice. After the church (the service was run by Peter Lauritzen, well known historian in Venice, who looked quite a bit taken aback when I announced to him I was going to read), Sandy’s party was lovely, and I met some really great people. I got a call from one painter, Bob Morgan, whom I had talked with at length at the party. He went to Princeton in “65 and has been living in Venice for almost 10 years, except for two years which he spent in New York during those ten years. He is very interested in the theatre – we will go sometime when something besides Lady Chatterly’s Lover is playing – we both agreed it would be too embarrassing to go to it. I have seen one of his paintings at the Rylands – a portrait of Philip which is lovely, and which Augustus coos at when Philip is not at home to fill the role of coo-ee. Others of interest at the party were Marcia and Mary, two painters from Florence. They are Americans, too, but are here to study Europe’s cache of reproducibles. I saw the slides and pictures of Marcia’s work – really wonderfully done – she has a skill in drawing unequal to anyone I’ve seen in it’s verity to detail, but as she admits herself, there is a point after which one must stop copying, having learned and to on from there. I played traduttrice (translator) for Marcia and Sylvano who discussed her drawings. It was fascinating. All together, an exhilarating evening – at 12:00, James started playing his jazz records and we jitterbugged on the marble floor of their flat.

Last night I went to the Circolo Britannico – joined actually, and heard Carol Brentano’s lecture on the nativity paintings (selectively from 13th Century to 16th Century, which was fascinating. Afterwards, we went to a concert at San Stae, free, I Giovani in concerto, playing Vivaldi, Marcello, Mozart. They were for the most part pretty talented young musicians, but the most interesting thing to watch was their insegnatore (teachers), whose facial contortions and mannerisms would befit any page of Joseph Andrews, or any work by Hogarth. Really incredible. I disgraced myself by giggling throughout.

After San Stae, Louisa and I went to Montin’s where Virginia was showing her slides of the famous regatta, and of Venice proper. They were wonderful. She has a special eye for color and the possibilities of seeing the reflections in the canals of the palazzos – they looked like paintings by Munch, or Kirchna, with their distortions and too-close-for-comfort descriptions of a city of Atlantans, who only occasionally emerged to walk above the water on the rough boards flanking the Basilica. Some of them were really quite extraordinary.

Tonight we are purported to have the pleasure of having a real “Venetian” meal prepared for us by a friend of Louisa’s, Giorgio, who wants to come here with his food and do it in our kitchen! Sounds good!
Tomorrow we are celebrating Louisa’s birthday by going to the Fenice to see a ballet called Renard, by Stravinksy and another by Eric Satie, and a last piece by….oops, don’t remember.

Talked to Mom last night, and we are equally excited about her visit. She arrives eleven days from today! She said Strohmeyer (her editer at the Bethlehem Globe Times, where she was a life-style editor) was running around the office telling people it was her birthday, but apparently no party resulted. Damn. It was a grossly unsubtle hint to him to arrange something. So, things are looking up. I am loosening up, allowing myself to let go of what I don’t have here, i.e., MWM, Bob, Bill, Susan and Laura, and to embrace this city as the elegant terrarium in which I am potted for nine months! Having some liquidity financially has rounded my view of European living, I must say. Ciao for now.

Letter from Kaja McGowan, a dear friend from high school, St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire

Dated: December 15, 1982

Dear Els,

            It is ten days until Christmas and I wonder what it must be like to be in Venice. I’m so tempted to take you up on your offer to go and maybe I shall?! One never can tell what may happen. You’ll be surprised perhaps to know that I am now in Los Angeles. I came here in flight, so to speak, fearfully flying from commitments and the comfortable habit of living a domestic sort of life. I have such trouble at times resolving all the women in my soul. It is like Doris Lessing’s multi-colored compartments; I wish eventually to let all my women blend into one Golden Notebook. Conflicts forever arise between the woman biologic and the woman artist. I love Mark, but my soul felt trapped, my creative instincts submerged. What makes matters worse, is that I do not know the clar calling of my heart by I patiently wait for signs and manifestations for the nourishment of my soul. I had considered graduate school at UCLA, then I began to try for a folk ensemble dance company called Aman, and then suddenly,  I woke one day and knew my calling. I know begin the process of return to Bali and Indonesia, where I have been invited by my old teacher. I received a letter from a very famous Indonesian novelist/poet/ and philosopher, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana. I met him in Bali, now two years ago, and he wrote a poem about me entitled, in translation, “the opening of a flower.” I choreographed a dance to the poem and performed it at  his art center in the mountains. It seems so long ago, and suddenly I received a letter inviting me back! It is so strange, because before the ltter arrived I had dreamed of my old teacher Tbu Reneng, and now I shall be returning to her and to the biography I’ve been dreaming to write on her life. Still, often, I do not always know if I have chosen rightly, those renunciations that I place at the foot of ‘art’! I love Mark, but my sould yearns for Bali? I believe that if feelings are strong between two people, love can withstand such inquests for the soul…

            And how are you and what are your dreams and plans? I shall always be close to you in spirit, but I feel a loss of touch somehow. It is frightening to think that is has already been more than four years since we have seen one another. I long to hear of your thoughts and your passions, how you are changing and the internal conflicts, if any, that you are facing…Tell me of Venice, too; I have such romantic thoughts about Venice! How will you be celebrating Christmas? I love what you write by Gauguin. It is so true. I close with a poem and a wealth of warm thoughts for a friendship renewed on paper bu internalized for eternities.

            If but to set this life upon one course

            And know the wiles that wait at every bent,

            T’would be such comfort to put all one’s force

            Toward singular intent.

            Yet life seems all one dabbling; of here & there,

            Of ebbe & flow, of never reaching far enough ahead

            Diversions trail like tousled hair,

            Ne’er taut as Ariadne’s silken thread.


            I wish you a very Merry Christmas

                        And an Equally Wonderful New Year!
Let’s attempt to meet sometime during the year to come – I’ll come to Venice!!!

                                                            All my love,



P.S. I shall be returning East in January to begin negotiations for Indonesian visas and perhaps to attend the Cornell Language Program in Java. Who knows, but if you write after January 11th, then my home address is best. Take care again and ride in a gondola for me – have you been serenaded nightly? (Just curious!)

Dec. 22, 1982

Interior Fenice Opera Venice

The Ballet was fantastic- I really learned what it meant to play with masks, and to realize fully the potential of a theatrical mask. The Renard piece fell pathetically short of this goal in its execution. The choreography was so loose that the dancers didn’t have much to show off – the whole piece seemed messy, though it had a fascinating ending in the crucifixion of Renard as a pseudo-Christ figure, with the emanation of “real” blood and the removal of his mask just as he was dead. But it seemed like a way of trying to save the piece with a convention, rather than concluding an already successfully deployed convention.

The second piece was a film  by Duchamp, Picabia, Rene Clair et.al,, backed by the music of Eric Satie, and was in a Futurist/Dadaist vein. Both because the film had these absurd images, like a funeral parade breaking into a jog, then a full run, and eventually so sped up it resembled some futuristic image by Boccioni, it was fascinating. Appropriately, Peter Borten, an American in residence with the Fenice Symphony this year told me that the musicians had been instructed by the conductor to skip some passages and hadn’t heard so that the music, which already lacked a totally harmonious cohesiveness became more in spirit with the film itself!

But the “Boeuf Sur Le Toit” by Cocteau, music by Darius Milhaud was by far the most spectacular of the three. The original Raoul Dufy set, was built in an exaggerated, larger than life scale, so that the actors, who wore enormous paper mache heads seemed in scale (at least their heads) with the brightly colored bar wherein the story took place. Here, too, was an example of their having studied precisely, and in detail , the character type they portrayed, so as to have the whole body in tune with their head. Truly fantastic. The true skill of acting with a mask on comes when you can convince the audience, by means of your other body movements, gestures, postures, that your face has undergone a change of expression. This was accomplished by several of the actors, in particular, the police man, whose expression registered everything from an insouciant smugness to the terror of being decapitated! We went across to the Taverna to have a glass of wine, and met Peter Borton, who seemed very nice.

Thursday night was Louisa’s birthday, and she went to Harry’s Bar with Alvise. Linda and I went to a weird chamber music (more medieval) concert at the Hotel Metropole.

Hotel Metropole, Venice

Friday night, nothing really.

Monday night went to a club here in Venice, invited by James, and Sandy. Fascinating group of people, and the club was lovely – drank too much Prosecco, and awoke with a god awful hang over.

Tuesday night a party at the Rusconi’s house to thank all the volunteers for the Venice Committee. Lovely party. Some new characters, like Buzz Brunetta, a ’56 alum from Princeton, who was, when he arrived at the party, already sloshed, and who only got worse as the party transpired. Carol and Bob Brentano, a California teaching duo, here in Venice this year. Sam Packard, a Fulbright Scholar from San Francisco, who is in Venice working for an architecture firm and teaching at the University. Peter Stafford, a 50-ish hotelier who is going to Edinbugh to help establish a new hotel there, Paola Doria, a lovely Venetian woman who works part time at the Venice Committee and her husband and sun. I will miss Sandy when she decides to move on – she is truly a delight. I look forward to her meeting Mom in three days(!) when she arrives.

Got a telegram today from MWM which was lovely. It was so reassuring to know that it was a message from the heart and “hot off the press” as it were, because he sent it last night at 5:45 and I received it today only at noon! So close. It’s reassuing to know that I can make contact that quickly.

December 22, 1982  Telegram from MWM

Dearest Els,

Please consider this coupon good for a dinner for two in Venice Greet your family there Package will follow  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year I love you


Jan. 2, 1983

I put Mom on the plane to Milan this morning at 7:30, meaning our travels began at 5:35 from Fondamenta Nouve. We had a wild week, beginning on Christmas day, Saturday when Mom arrived. Linda and I cooked dinner, after her nap Mom came down to eat, but was really quite exhausted. Sunday AM we took Linda to the train to go back to England, then that afternoon, visited San Marco and walked around. Dinner Sunday night with Sandy, James and Verena. Mom was charmed by James, and we had a good quiche. Monday we spent shopping, and had a binge of clothes-buying for me, even at the Chi-chi Elisabetta all Fenice!!! Monday night we went to Montin’s for dinner with Sandy, stayed very late, drank very much. Tuesday AM we caught the 8:05 Rapido to Florence, checked into the Porta Rossa, went to the Uffizzi , looked for a couple hours, took lunch at the cafeteria there, then went back to the hotel for siestaville. Tuesday night, dinner at the Cantinetta Anitori, very nice. Wednesday AM, to the Academia to see David, then to the Duomo (or Tues. night to the Duomo? Yes) then went to the Palazzo Davanzanti and around to the Brunelleschi’s Loggia Dei Innocenti –

Brunelleschi's Loggia Degli Innocenti

lunch at Il Profeta, reportedly Harry’s Bar people. Afternoon train to Venice – dinner at home Wednesday night. Thursday lunch at Montin’s, after the morning at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (where the Venice Committee offices were) and the Academia.

http://www.scuolagrandesanrocco.it/  Scuola Grande Di San Rocco Scuola Grande di San Rocco Interior

Thurs. afternoon siesta. Thursday night “Pub crawling” with Sandy, starting at Harry’s, on to Floriano, on to Hotel Metropole for Jazz, and last to the Hotel Danieli for piano bar and prosecco! Friday night, after a crazy day of preparation, a New Year’s eve Party – Sandy, James, Verena and two friends of Sam’s, Deborah and Harvey. Good time. Saturday morning in, and afternoon at San Marco and home. Sandy over for dinner after drinks, and we talked until 11:00PM. Sunday 4:00AM up to go to airport…Phew. Not too much wasted time, though I’m sorry Mom didn’t see more of Venice’s sights – it seems we spent more time drinking than anything else!
Called MWM tonight to wish him happy birthday, etc. He has found a job driving a Sea Food truck in New York, no auditions yet. He spent Christmas out in Wisconsin with Kerri, who apparently is very unhappy. God, it was great to talk with him. He was talking about coming in May and staying until July, when he would fly back with me. Sounds spectacular, my only concern being that if we lose the apartment for June, he would really be up a creek. Damn. That would be a pisser. I am pooped. And so closes the Christmas chapter of Venice.



(Upon her returning to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Mom wrote the following column, which appeared in the Bethlehem Globe Times on January 5, 1983.)

Venice Doesn’t Dispute the 20th Century – It Ignores It

“Did you like the Academy?” Elsbeth asked as we exited Venice’s major museum.

“Yes,” I replied. “It was warmer than some of the other places we’ve been.”

I spent Christmas week with my daughter who is temporarily in Italy, and that comment was less the remark of a complete philistine than of a person exposed to such an unfamiliar profusion of art as to be dumbfounded. So many Titians, Tintorettos, Georgiones and Bellinis that, I am ashamed to admit, they began to run together in a blur. For an American whose proudest accomplishment in the past two years has been getting on speaking terms with a computer, spending a week in Venice teaches, among other things, a lasting lesson in humility.

In the United States, to be dubbed a holdover from the 18th century is a snide kind of opprobrium. In Venice, the centuries 12th through 18th are constant companions. The city, perched precariously on the northern rim of the Adriatic, subject to every caprice of tide that floods up its canals, preserves a museum of architecture and painting that recalls a philosophy in which man was noble, and God was king – along with the artists who described Him and the patrons who supported them. Titian’s tomb in the Venetian church of the Frari is as large as that of Cosimo de Medici in Florence.

It is not that Venice disputes the 20th century. It simply ignores it as irrelevant. With the web of canals and footbridges that cross them making automobile travel impossible in the city, heavy industry has centered in nearby Mestre. Venice remains a city of tourism, banking and art. With a population about the same as Bethlehem’s, it can be traversed by foot in little more than half an hour.

Elsbeth is connected with another great Venice industry – art scholarship – accompanying a graduate student with a fellowship to study the painter, Lotto, helping her to care for her 6-year-old daughter. That makes her part of the Venetian American community, a group of about 200, most of whom know each other, and have picked this city out of all the world as a place to live. Even after only a week there, it isn’t too hard to understand why.

One man I met made a fortune by the age of 38 with a shoe store in the Middle West. He has lived in Venice in a high-ceilinged antique-filled second-floor apartment overlooking the Grand Canal three of the 10 years since he retired. Since moving there he has read 400 books with discrimination, becoming an authority on the likes of Hemingway and Mark Twain, and exerting a magnetic attraction over artists, writers, publisher. While I was there, he was arranging for an apartment for the Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky, just then arriving from the United States.

It has been said of New York that the reason so many important things happen there is that people are crammed so close together that they constantly bump up against each other, producing a creative friction.

With its far smaller population, Venice seems much the same way. You can’t go out the front door, get in your car, and drive alone, privately to your destination. You walk. Starting out from a residential area with few people on the calle or stone-paved sidewalk, within a block or two beginning to meet others, till arriving near the Rialto bridge, the market center of the city, you are in the midst of a dense, chattering crowd.

If you choose to ride rather than walk, it will probably not be in the expensive gondolas or Chris Craft water taxis, but on the vaporetto, the lumbering boats that hold 70 or so people jammed together as in a bus.

People encounter each other in the piazzas and stop to talk a while, or they take coffee in a bar. In the winter tourists are fewer, but reportedly during the Italian equivalent of Mardi Gras, police are required to direct the press of pedestrian traffic, 40 percent of whom are dressed in costume even during the day.

The city itself wears a permanent costume-with its buildings rising straight up from the pavement, only an occasional vine peeking over a wall, a rare peek at a walled garden, it avoids barrenness by the variety of rooflines against the sky – the turn at the end of the twisting calle that opens on a bridge over a canal.

In December, geraniums still flamed in pots clustered outside second-floor windows, and outdoor flower stands were filled with roses and anemones. It is hard to find that American standby, carnations, anywhere. They are known there as “funeral flowers” and to give them is an offense.

Along the Grand Canal that snakes its watery way through the city, the palazzos appear boarded up, with their shutters closed and the paint peeling off their walls at the water line. But at night a lighted crystal chandelier elaborate enough to glitter at Versailles, glimpsed through a single open window gives a hint of the elegance of the life lived behind the mask.

Grocery shopping becomes and adventure – each item bought in its own special place- the bakery, where the baker called out to have a New Year’s almond cake not in his stock brought in – the open-air butcher shop where a female butcher skinned a chicken in one fluid motion – the green grocer where you may not touch the produce, but let him pick it out for you. Speaking in her charmingly hesitant but eager Italian, Elsbeth was given nothing but the best.

The one great disappointment was Harry’s Bar – the establishment once haunted by Hemingway, now frequented by celebrities who go there to hold court. We went only for a drink, having been warned it is too expensive a place to eat. When a new patron enters, every head in the place swivels expectantly toward the door hoping it will be a famous face.

The bar was crowded. There was one empty table.

We were asked if we wanted dinner. No, just a drink.”Well, you can’t sit down,” said the maitre d’, noting our interest in the table.

“But the bar is too crowded,” we said.

“You can’t sit down,” he repeated. “This is reserved.’

We stood momentarily, unable to believe we were actually going to be turned

 away. Could you say you’d even been to Venice if you hadn’t had a drink at Harry’s Bar?

            Apparently fearing we intended to remain rooted there indefinitely, our persecutor had a change of heart. “You can sit down for 15 minutes,” he announced.

            The dark paneling one expects to see is upstairs, I am told. We didn’t get that far. We sat in the tiny, brightly lighted room with a crowd of similarly unimportant people, who were far better equipped with furs and makeup. We looked at them. They looked at us. We each had one $5 glass of prosecco. Admittedly throwing it down in 15 minutes made it a fairly heady experience. We left.

            You can have Harry’s Bar. But Venice? Ah, that’s another story.

Shirley Collins

The Hummingbird Chronicles – Part 4

Well, it’s been a while since I let you know how our avian paradise was going. Now in January, with temperatures in the high 70s, hot for even Los Angeles at this time of year, our balcony is still aswarm with Hummingbirds. There has been a persistent bully bird, feeding at the far right feeder and sitting perched on the vine, which has grown in recent months,  loose tendrils of vine branching out into the airspace around the balcony rail – begging to be guided to the rail to grab onto it. If only I knew where to tell it to grow to next, I would do so, but to guide the tendrils back to the wall of the apartment building would commit me to going to Home Desperate to buy some kind of trellis, which seems unlikely, since I don’t know how to get it to stay up. Sigh.

The apartment building opposite our windows is growing faster than the vine’s tendrils. It now spans 14 floors above the bottom 4 which look to be parking floors. I have so many questions about the construction and no one to ask – if they say the building is supposed to be 22 stories, does that include the parking floors? View from the balcony

Just found the picture of the building and an article online which answered a number of my own questions, though not all. You see, we are trying to determine whether we will lose our view of the US Bank building in its entirety or not.


But the hummingbirds are oblivious to the noise of the construction, and the fascinated onlookers who sit on the balcony mid day to watch them and the building as continues its rise.

We recently had visitors, and I can safely say we indoctrinated them with the same obsession we have about the birds. Sally, my Dad’s wife, sat on the balcony every afternoon, and read all three hummingbird books while she was here. There is something very zen about spending time with them. They are little reminders of nature for us urbanites. It is a little like have miniature aerealists performing just for you. Makes you feel very special.

Everything for a reason

Today I was driving to Camarillo with my colleague Hannah, whom we call “Speak the Truth Hannah” because she, well, she speaks the truth. She is phenomenally clear-eyed and direct as well as enormously competent at her job. All in all, a great hire and a good friend.

We were talking about a recent visit over the holidays by my Dad and his wife, and I was telling her how incredibly adept at reading, gathering people’s histories and retaining them my Dad is. He has an amazing and instantaneous ability to recall facts and relationships about people he has met and has long term histories between those people which he can call up from his brain with seemingly no effort. He is an amazing man.

I told Hannah that it wasn’t until this Christmas that I had actually found out what Dad had studied in his undergraduate years at Yale. I realized it over lunch during their visit. “American Studies,” he told me, and then went on to tell a funny, self-deprecating story about how he had sort of stumbled into the department as a last resort, having always loved history and literature up until that point but having been rebuffed by the English Department.

Hannah made a comment about how he must have been upset that I decided to go to Princeton rather than to Yale. I acknowledged that indeed my theatrical career goals might have been much more effectively served had I gone to Yale, but that it was a bit of a rebellious streak that led me to Princeton.

Then the phrase “everything for a reason” popped into my head. I started to think about the what ifs –

1) If I hadn’t gone to Princeton, I wouldn’t have begun stage managing in my sophomore year, which turned into my career

2) I wouldn’t have met Louisa at the coke machine in the student center and gone to Italy for 13 months right after college, which was a life-changing trip.

2) If I hadn’t gone to Princeton, I wouldn’t have met Susan Smith who then called me back from Italy for my first professional theatre job on a Hal Prince directed show, “Play Memory”, where I met my husband Jimmie.

3) If I hadn’t met my husband, we wouldn’t have our beautiful son, Chris, who sent me this photo of himself at the office today.

Chris with the Octopus

4) If I had gone to Yale, I probably would have ended up on the east coast, making theatre in NY, but wouldn’t have known all the fantastic people I know here in LA, certainly wouldn’t be teaching at USC.

Everything for a reason.

Have you thought about the reasons for the good things in your life today?

Letters from Venice – Part VIII


Nov. 16, 1982

Three days or four into our training. We are running every morning much to the amusement of the Venetian commuters, and it is a welcome quickening of the physical system.

Yesterday, I met Jane Rylands and her 16-month-old son Augustus. I was charmbed by both but remained convinced that naming your baby Augustus is tantamount to cruelty. I will enjoy working for her, though. It is great to get out with a purpose and goal. Tomorrow morning Louisa and I are going to volunteer our services at the Venice Committee – stuffing envelopes. But I just get so bored without work. You know you’re in trouble when your day’s high point is shopping for celery root!

Went to hear a concert of Stravinsky and Bartok at the Fenice Grand Theatre the other night. I am impressed by the novel presentations of music I’ve seen in Venice. One piece by Stravinsky called “Feu d’Artifice’ was presented with a futuristic light show amidst a fabulous set. But the Bartok ‘opera’ was called “Castello di Barbablu” (Castle of Bluebeard) and was really very interesting. Set in a simple symmetric set, the rogue Bluebeard and his too-curious consort moved in a carefully choreographed dance which was repeated four times in the course of the piece, once in blue light, once in yellow, and once in red as she discovered the coffer (coffin) filled with dolls and another luckless wife. The music was incredibly dramatic, as Bartok is, and the sets, lights and choreography contributed to a very powerful performance by the five performers. Three of the four women in the piece began as almost a running crew, all dressed in rustling floor-length black dresses, with their red hair piled in buns atop their heads. They glided across the floors in the castle, helping the “new” wife to undress, preparing the bed, down left, etc. But in the end, in a great horror sequence, they appeared as previous wives and glided up to a mirror behind the center upstage door and wisped away as apparitions. It was quite beautiful.


Dec. 3, 1982

Long time no write. Shitty/great day today. I am waiting for a transfer of money from the states, courtesy of George Setton, and a causa del scciopero (strike), the bank is closed and knew nothing of it. And I am very frustrated at not being able to express myself very well. But what the hell – it’s challenging. I met a wonderful guy who lives in the Corte – actually, he has a studio there – named Sylvano. He invited me to go to a poetry reading tonight, which should be fun.

I am immersed in this translation I’m doing for Serge, Louisa’s friend. 60 pages of bad English to worse Italian. Keeps my mind going and supposedly pays well.

With Christmas just around the bend I am so excited that Mom is coming. It doesn’t feel like Xmas so much, only because I lack the ubiquitous American reminders of its imminence, no Christmas music on the radio, and the meekest of Xmas decorations in shop windows. I do prefer the restraint, but at the same time, I always enjoy “getting in the spirit” which seems far off yet.  I can buy a little Xmas tree at the Rialto, and decorate it with little ornaments Juli bought little earrings to decorate hers with.

Letters from Susan and Bill still make me incredibly homesick, as did Aunt Nancy’s death – obviously tangential to the other emotions as well. It is crucial for me to get out to these lectures and concerts to keep busy – as I am a busy person and living a a quasi-solitary life doesn’t agree with me at all.

Last night we watched “Gli Uccelli” (The Birds) by Alfred Hitchcock

and today they were netting piccione (pigeons) in the Corte right outside my door! I came up the calle from doing my shopping and encountered a very unlikely pigeon-feeder, a stoop-shouldered sunburned man, bent at the waist, cooing at the birds, while dropping seed, and backing up down the calle toward the Corte del Palludo. (the courtyard outside Louisa’s rented house – means Court of the Swamp) I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that they were capturing the pigeons, taking the sick ones to the hospital, and the healthy ones to Milano! My own theory is that all the little buggers were on their way to the bouillon factory. Little ironies that are just too much to ignore sometimes! Really it was quite funny. So my days are laced with connections with people and funny events and are colored with success and failure, just as Mark predicted they would be. I’ve always been a sort of dilettante, I fear, and being here for this length of time makes such a position impossible to hold. Because the beauty of dilettante-ship is to be able to move on to the next thing when the first becomes too difficult, or when you perceive you might fail. But I’ve done it this time! I’ve gotten myself in a country where I don’t speak the language very well, know about three people, and can make myself completely miserable if I so choose. But hell, that’s no way to go.



December 5, 1982

Made a new friend in an artist who lives in the Corte del Palludo. Very cool guy. We went to a poetry reading the other night, which was difficult to understand, but I can tell a great deal from gestures and presence as actors, as well as intuit something of their involvement with their poetry. Last night Sylvano and I talked about his painting and how it relates to philosophy – the pre-Aristotelian denials of the reality of things and thingness. We talked about music as a drug, and how music doesn’t exist except as a drogue. My involvement in these conversations is still fairly limited verbally, but I understand a great deal when I listen.

Today, Sunday. I am going to Torcello with Sandy (an American expatriate in her mid to late 50’s whom I had met and liked immediately), and it’s a beautiful day. At four is a concert of Stravinsky’s “Sagra della Primavera” (Rites of Spring) which I have always wanted to hear – I will imagine Isadora Duncan dancing in burlap as I listen. I am looking forward to a ballet in a week or so, based on Cocteau’s piece “Boeuf sur La Toit” and another to the music of Eric Satie.

Louisa’s birthday is coming up, so I hope to treat her to this ballet for her present.

Julie and I had a falling out over Sylvano, my artist friend, and from her expression and reticence to talk about him, I imagine that she has had more than limited dealings with him in the early days of Venice. I am sort of in a quandary because there is this wall between Julie and me, and unlike with my friends at home, she is unwilling to acknowledge its existence, surely she expects that I will drift away from such a reception – is that what I will do? It reminds me a little of the dynamics with a friend at Princeton. Speaking of which, I must write to her. Got a fantastic, loving, news-filled, action packed letter from Bob, who has applied to Yale Graphic Arts program. I hope he goes- he is so talented it makes me puke! (Not really) As I said, he will be my one internationally acclaimed friend!
The translation goes, but slowly, tortuously. Sergio asked me to come to “teach” English to his son – very surreptitiously in the guise of a chess player/backgammon pal.

Should be interesting. I have never laid eyes on an English book to see how the language is taught. Blindly I go. Which will be funny considering my mancanza dei paroli italiani. Vediamo. (lack of Italian words. We’ll see)


Letters from Venice – Part VII

Oct. 24, 1982 IMG_0772-tm

I arrived in Venice three day ago. It is fantastic here – truly bellissima. The apartment is great, too, very big. I moved into my room today – Louisa and Charlie, a friend from Princeton who is here visiting have gone away for a week of travels in Italy, to Florence, etc. We three had a great time last night and went to El Souk, the Discoteca of Venezia and danced and drank up a store – it was really fun. Interesting, too – all the men watched themselves in the mirrors – very consistently.

Today I went to visit San Marco for the first time – God, it was so impressive. I could see from the water at the front of the Basilica that “acqua alta” is not joke. It really does get deep and puddles are a given. piazza1

Took it easy the rest of the day, and moved, etc. Tonight I took a walk around Venice with my map, but without looking at it once. In a way, it was also a test for myself. I find myself becoming increasingly reticent to make contact with people on the street – there is an expectation that I will be approached by someone only interested in coming on to me. I’m concerned about this rather egotistical paranoia, but the truth is, they do come on…a lot. Boring to write about and read, Els. (Especially thirty years later)

I found a really soothing spot tonight – on the Fondamento Nouve, right on the back end of the Hospitale Civile, there is bridge under which boats can pass to make deliveries at the hospital – thus, there was an interior, hollow lapping sound that was almost chilling, combined with the all encompassing exterior sound of the water off the island. And the lights of the boats drilled across the murky night – oh, so great! A mist that cooled me off. It will take time to make Venice my home, but the physical plant is so beautiful. I’ve never been in a more beautiful city.

Oct. 27, 1982

Yesterday I found the Palazzo Fortuny Palazzo_Fortuny

and the Cecil Beaton retrospective ’22-71. He really had an extraordinary sense of appropriate images and his choice of subject and paper, etc. It was fascinating to see his concern with opulence and fabric in the thirties when such consciousness would almost have been sacrilege. His Modella Russa was absolutely exquisite – very much like Fred Sommer’s collages. His dramatic control of light, and his appraisal of contrasts of light and dark fabrics/grounds are truly amazing. One photo of Audrey Hepburn where the actress, dressed in black, was in front of a brown wall and held up her pallid white hand in a gesture of halting the viewer from coming closer – a guarded gesture – really beautiful contrast of the hand against the wall.

Julie, the American across the court came over for coffee today, and we went to see a Groucho Marx movie and then I had dinner at her house with her husband, Paolo – wild arrangement – she speaks English, he Italian – and never the twain shall meet. It’s ok, they both seem to understand – neither is at a disadvantage. More tomorrow.

Oct. 28, 1982

The hardest thing about adapting to life here in Venice is this sense of busyness I have culled all my life, and the fear of lethargy which is pervasive these days. It would be easy for me to spend all my afternoons with Julie, but in doing so, that would allow her to speak when we meet people, and while I’m hearing Italian spoken, I would not be speaking. I also need a project. Learn Italian – why is it when I have this opportunity I am so afraid of speaking, of knowing how to speak.

Nov. 2, 1982

Susan Smith called last night and it was a true lifter of a call – to know Bob and Bill and MWM are thinking about me. She said she thinks MWM is making plans to come over!!

Anyway, I was inspired, and today I spoke only Italian, at the market and in the shops; even bought a Gazzetino, and read it!

Tomorrow I meet with Philip Rylands at the Guggenheim, and I don’t even have my letter of introduction from Peter Bunnell. Oh hell. I wonder what there would even be for me to do at the collection.

Sunday, Julie & I went to the Lido and rented bicycles and tooled around. It was beautiful, the fog was lounging over the Laguna, and it was impossible to see from the Lido to Venice. view

(Had we been able to see this is what we might have seen)

I bought notebooks today to begin my “project” – recording poetic observations viz. art in Venice. The opening is a poem about one of the Cecil Beaton photographs from the retrospective 1922-1971 at the Palazzo Fortuny. I think it’s weak at best, but it will provide a framework for my writing. I need an “advisor” to keep on my tail about it. Hmmm. “Phil?” Anyway, I’m babbling.

Nov. 8, 1982   (Written in red ink on a white folding stationery) Return address:
c/o L. Gallavresi

Cannaregio 6253

30121 Venezia

To:      Bob Stern

55 Park Place

Princeton, NJ 08540

Dear Bob,

These are my red Ruskin letters. (This means I just wrote one to MWM, in which I also quoted Ruskin.) For you, I found a great passage on the virtues of architecture:

“…we take pleasure or should take pleasure in architectural construction altogether as the manifestation of an admirable human intelligence; it is not the strength not the size, not the finish of the work which we are to venerate: rocks are always stronger, mountains always larger, all natural objects more finished; but it is the intelligence and resolution of man in overcoming physical difficulty which are to be the source of our pleasure and subject of our praise. And again, in decoration or beauty, it is less the actual loveliness of the thing produced, than the choice and invention concerned in the production, which are to delight us, the love and the thoughts of the workman than his work. His work must always be imperfect, but his thoughts and affections may be true and deep.”

Stones of Venice, App. 7.

Found that and I thought of you, because it not only applies to you as architect, but Bob the doer and builder of beautiful things, whether they be prints, sets, or relationships. I love you very dearly, Bob.

Susan called two nights ago and raised my spirits to their peaks! She also sent me a letter that I got yesterday. She sounds as though McCarter agrees with her and her home in Hopewell sounds lovely, too. Have you seen it? She told me about her new “friend” Gary. I am so glad she met someone nice and close to Princeton! Long distance with John didn’t seem to work too well.

I met Philip Rylands, had of the Guggenheim collection here in Venice, and he told me there might be things for me to do for visiting American scholars, the end of November. Also, he might use me as a babysitter for his 16-month-old son. “My wife is going absolutely mad,” he said. Very stuffy young Brit.

I cleaned the whole fucking apartment today, down to the tiles, which are the floors for the whole place – white tiles, which show all. Tonight I am making Gnocchi Verdi, and after trying to explain to the hardware store man what I wanted was ‘cheesecloth” –“la stoffa che e poroso per prosciugare l’acqua del formaggio, etc. etc.,” he told me they don’t use it here in Venezia. Well my next stop was the cheese store, and sure ‘nuf, the ricotta was so solid it didn’t need to be drained. Lesson 3 in living day to day in a foreign country where you don’t know the idiotic colloquial expressions…yet. I am really improving. My cheese man told me “parla bene l’italiano.” Flattery, flattery…

Tell Bill I say hello and give him a loud succulent smack for me. Talking to Susan made me feel so much closer to y’all there!

Louisa is away lots, but we have a great time when she is here. The neighborhood kids are little hoods, and I am sitting in the kitchen listening to Brahms and the sound of their little toys being hurled all over the Goddamned courtyard. Ah the bliss of urbanity. Now the little fuckers are pounding on my window. Excuse me while I get my shotgun.

Love to MWM. But you two take care….xoxo Els

New Year Cliche

Just ordered 10 classes through the local YAS two days before the New Year hits. The first time I took a class there, I could hardly walk when I dismounted. Tomorrow at 4:15 is my second class ever. As I said, wish me luck! Happy New Year to me!


Letters from Venice – Part VI

Dear reader, as I explained earlier in this series on Venice, these writings are literally from my early 20s journal and from letters sent back to me by one of the original recipients, my dear friend Bob. I got to the end of Part V and started to read Part VI and became mortified by the content of next section, complete with gushy badly written french poetry. But if you have opted to stay with me on this so far, then I guess you will forgive this, too.

Sept. 22, 1982   ON The TRAIN TO AMSTERDAM (A MWM)

(Poem written in bad French)

Je veux que tu sache maintenant, mon cher,

Que je suis bien contente.

Avec toutes les choses nouvelles a voir.

Comment c’est elegante.

Mais sous les vues, immenses et varies,

Je me percevois de ce realite:

Que je t’attends avec toute mon ame.

Ce n’est pas a dire qu’a cause de cette attente,

J’omis n’importe quoi.

Mais seulement que, en tout cas,

Je fais ce que je dois.

Et enfin, je dois t’attendre, parce quie tu es tellement cher.

Et toutes les choses dehors and dedans

Rendent ta valeur plus claire.

Translated roughly:

I want you to know now, my dear,

That I am very content.

With all the new things to see

Oh, how it is elegant.

But through all these vues, great and varied,

I am aware of this reality.

That I wait for you with all my soul,

That’s not to say that because of this waiting

I omit anything

But only that, in any case,

I am doing what I want.

And finally, I want to wait for you,

Because you are so incredibly dear,

And all things outside and within

Render your value more clear.

Letter from: MWM (Name and address redacted to protect the blameless)

(MWM was an actor who had played in a production of Threepenny Opera, which we had done the summer after I graduated from Princeton. My friends Bob Stern, Veronica Brady, Dale Coye and I ran a summer theatre at the Theatre Intime, a building on the campus of Princeton. We hired professional actors to perform in the shows, and I stage managed the shows, Bob designed the scenery, Bob, Dale and I, along with some young interns, built the scenery, and Veronica was the artistic Director, and ran the box office. Susan Smith was also involved as the Managing Director. It was a phenomenal summer. In the basement of the building adjacent to the theatre, there was a small café, where we all retired to after the performances were over and that’s where we had met. MWM was a very sweet guy, and he rode a motorcycle, as he lived outside of Princeton. We had a lovely summer tryst, and then when I went to Europe, corresponded for several months until I met another man in Venice with whom I became enamored. Ah, fickle youth! MWM visited me later in the year and we took a trip to Southern Italy with some of my Venetian friends. It was disastrous for our relationship, but more on that later.

Sept. 23, 1982


c/o Hotel Arthur Frommer

Noorderstraadt 46


Dearest Els,

Well, where to begin. First, thanks so much for all your letters, cards, news, etc. It really is a lift after the end of a hard day and lately there have been many hard days.

I can’t believe that you sent that package but it was great to get it. Thanks so much, it’s beautiful. I put it on Friday and I do believe it calmed my ragged nerves. Many people commented how nice it was, original, etc… I loved it. Thanks, Els, for being an incredible woman. The play has not gone well. Biff I think is strong and the character is well delineated however the play is so technical that if these basic technicalities are not working, the whole play suffers. Reed is absolutely the worst director I have ever worked with and I do not think I shall be working with him again! He is what they call an “anti-director” practicing what he calls the ‘Socratic Method’ of direction which consists mainly of asking us “how does it feel” concerning anything and everything from line interpretation, blocking, movement basic script analysis – everything. His blocking is ‘organic’ which means basically that there is none except that which the character has chosen to do. It is absolutely crazy!

The cast kept hoping that he would give us some kind of concrete blocking and even a semblance of direction. We waited until three days before opening. At that point the owner of the theatre, Tom Ryan, lost control. And so, for 15 minutes they stood their [sic], Alan Reed and Ryan, yelling at each other, calling each other names, and other such absurdities in front of the whole cast and crew. It was just wonderful theatre. In any case, Friday went as well as can be expected.

“Philadelphia Inquirer” came out with a review today. It was not as bad as I expected. They almost liked me. I will mail copies next letter. What really killed the cast is that the critic wrote how well and carefully directed this piece was by Alan Reed and yet he had nothing really good to say about anybody else. “Life is not a bed of roses,” comes to mind occasionally.

Plans are progressing for an apartment in Montclair or there abouts.

Jeremy, my friend from Europe, was able to raise $25,000 here, so if things work out in Santa Fe in Oct., I might be able to have a job there in the future if I want it. That was really good news. Overall things are going on or about even keel.

Your letters continue to bring me joy, visions, beautiful memories and some good dreams. Thank you..—

Greet Bob warmly for me as well as your Dad and Stepmother.

Els, take care of yourself. Know that I am at your side in ways as yet unexplained.                                                                                    I love you


Sept. 24, 1982

Well, we have begun our trip in France! I met Dad and Joan in Amsterdam, which is a beautiful city. I got a fantastic letter from MWM yesterday, and in spite of the disappointment of not being able to afford to call him, I feel very in touch with him. We are in Arras, France on our way to Rouen tomorrow, Saturday, where there is a market, which is supposed to be the thing to see in Rouen.

Rented a car in Amsterdam. The European drivers all drive 120 k /hr at least. It feels like breakneck speed! And they don’t let you loiter in the passing lane! We are in elegant quarters in Arras, an apartment for about $25.00. Two rooms, very spiffola. I am exhausted!

Sept. 27, 1982

Four days out of Amsterdam, and ten pounds later, we have seen the Cathedral at Amiens, Rouen, Rouen Cathedral, the Bayeux tapestry, and today the Chateau at Angers. Chateau D'AngersSplendid sights and more than obscene cuisine. I called MWM from Bayeux, which was great.

I’m reading the Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, a really important book for anyone getting his or her bearings in a modern world.  About dignity and not compromising your integrity, or compromising which are both your choices. You need never be the victim of circumstance.

I met another “life student” at the Bayeux tapestry – 64 years old, had taught herself Italian, English, Greek and Hebrew. Fascinating woman.

So much to see, it is nice to be spoiled for a while – one only wishes there were some way to save some of the grandeur for later on!

We are in La Rochelle for the night, a beautiful port town- very “quaint” in the travelogue sense.

October 3, 1982

Yesterday, we drove west in the Dordogne Valley, from Sarlat Sarlat to

BergeracBergerac, city of Cyrano. Along the winding river, which flirts with the myriad of roads at its side.

Last night we had dinner at the Cro-Magnon hotelCro-Magnon Hotel

and combined with natural lunacy (it was a full moon) we were in hysterics over this British couple of 65 or older who was next to us. “Really, dahling, these potatoes are so underdone, I don’t know if I can eat them!” Dad and Joan thought them to be newlyweds, but I don’t know. Whatever they were, they were incredible.

As have been my dreams the past two days. I dreamt yesterday that I became the Queen of England and last night that Bob and I did “Camilla” (another of the plays we had taken to Edinburgh) in front of an audience at a Dude ranch, on horseback with our backpacks. We came on stage riding (our entrance was interrupted by a stampeding herd of bulls escaped from the corral outside), took off our backpacks, and did the reading of the play from these music stands which we tried artistically and stylistically to swat into parallel planes separating us. I didn’t know the lines and I was less than helpful to Bob in figuring them out. When half the audience had left, we gave up and left the stage.

The Dude ranch consisted of fifty to seventy-five horses of the most variable sizes ever witnessed. Weird things happened on this ranch – I rode out on one horse, and came back in on another. I had a little theatre where I and cohorts were doing this very macabre play which involved an upbeat final scene of laughing people, at which point, the audience exited through the stage and out the back of the theatre, which was a warehouse. Only if they turned around and looked at the theatre as they left would they see the total carnage above the garage doors – bodies with the feet cut off at the ankles, heads mounted like hunting trophies, with grinning bloody faces, etc. all visible through the transoms above the garage doors. Ok, Els, lie down and start talking….

The last important thing about this dream and that of the night before was that Kaja McGowan appeared in both dreams. Last night she was in a store: MWM and I pulled up and she told me that she was getting a divorce. She was smoking like a chimney and was very high-strung and hard – totally un-Kaja-like. I will write her a letter today to tell her I’ve been dreaming!

Then there was the Dude Church for which all the youngsters were the Deacons. I couldn’t find the collection basket till at the last moment someone handed me a plate and we collected. But I ran into Betty Henry, who stopped me and wouldn’t let me finish. Then, as we finished, instead of taking the money to the front, we sat down in the congregation. An obese man next to my collecting partner asked how much we had made.

“$1.65,” we said.

He took the money out of the dish and put it in his pocket, meanwhile, pulling out the contents of his pockets which included a huge amount of foreign change and a “Grosse horologe,” made of gold but with crayon Louis XXIV design on the face.

Oct. 7, 1982

Just pulled into St. Jean du Luz, tonight, on the coast of the Atlantic, and on the edge of the Pyrenees. St.JeanduLuz

It is great to be near the ocean. I am going to get up and take a walk, I think, along the shore. Stayed in Pare last night, after seeing Lourdes, an incredibly sobering sight. I felt like I was on the filming site of Night of the Living Dead, with all these invalids wheeling by, carrying candles to place in a grotto under a ceramic statue of Mary, and receptacles of all sizes ranging from necklace sized to gallon jugs to collect samples of the healing waters. Dear God. I would have laughed, except for the clear intensive hope of these people. Dad is of the opinion that it is a mere moneymaking scheme of the church. I think that probably more than half of those pilgrims were really holders of a faith- one that I am not privy to, but that makes it no less real for them. I saw one nun lean out and grab a woman’s hand who was wheeling by– it was that human caring that brought those people there, I think. The desire to be of one with others around them, and that happened to be the solution. Who are we of good health to begrudge those people? Don’t we seek those human embraces from the attendants at the gas stations who change our pneu creve ou gonfle? **

(**While on the road earlier that week, in our rental car, we’d had two mishaps. The first was a flat tire at the side of the road, where our extensive pursuit of the game, Milles-Bournes as children had provided me with the French vocabulary necessary to explain our predicament to the gas station attendant, who repaired our tire. The other incident happened while we were visiting the Remy cognac plant, and in the pouring rain, backed our rental car out of the parking space and into a soon-to-be hysterical French woman’s car. A trip to the insurance office later we left Remy.)

Oct. 10, 1982

We are in Poitiers, France, having visited in Bordeaux last night and St. Emilion today. In Bordeaux we stayed at this relative flea bag, but the high point of the visit was when we walked over the the “Foire Aux Plaisirs,” The visiting county fair, and rode the Ferris wheel, which was very high, and very much fun.

Foire Aux Plaisirs

Again, an interesting perspective on our American status. There was a house called the American Show, highly gaudily decorated and sporting every tacky object you can imagine, from an all black Dixieland Jazz band to a Roy Lichtenstein comic book portrayal of two women in virtually nothing but sleezy “Uncle Sam” tutus. And the course that you walked on (We saw no other Americans doing this thing) took you out on a balcony in front of the crowd gathered below, and you walked over vent that blew air up (a la Marilyn Monroe, to give the men a thrill when an unsuspecting woman in skirt passed over.) This one guy had his hand up in a Tricky Dicky Nixon sign, and the crowd below laughed.

St. Emilion was great – miles and miles of vineyards stretched out. But one thing I realized is that the Chateau reconstruction project sounds very appealing to me after seeing the small-townness of St. Emilion. I will look in Paris to see if anything has turned up, but I think the former sounds more instructive for my French and more psychologically healthy for me.

Oct. 15-16, 1982


I’ve now been back in Paris for two days – tonight’s my second night – quite a bit has happened in that short time! But tonight I went to see View From The Bridge, by Arthur Miller, at Gallerie 55, and directed by Fiona Scanlon, who has great reviews for her English-Speaking Theatre. I was very happily and frankly surprisingly impressed with the quality of the production. It is really a difficult play, and the actors had by the end of the first scene, established the motivations of the main character for the whole show, and not in a bludgeoningly obvious way – the director was very subtle, but firm. I met the director and gave her my address in Venice – she said she’d need people after Christmas and would drop me a line. I liked her, though she seemed a little drunk.

Last night, I met Ben, a very friendly Frenchman from les banlieus, whom I am not leaping at the chance to see again. Suffice it to say, I am learning about being on my own and making choices about whom I will associate with.

Went to the American Church today – there was really nothing – especially not for as short a time as I’m here for. I really think I should go back to Gallerie 55 tomorrow night after the show and talk with some of the actors about options, opportunities.

God, I’m tired!!!


Labor Day Labor of Love – Happy New Year

At about 11:30 Am on Christmas Eve day, the phone rang and the Crate and Barrel delivery folks told me that our final piece of the sofa would be arriving on Friday, December 27th between 2:30 and 4:30PM.
“Great! And will they be able to take away the loaner that we have here then?”

Didn’t know about the loaner, she told me. You will need to call your contact at the store to make sure there is a note in the system about the couch that needed to be picked up.

I called Crate and Barrel on Christmas Eve day to thank Diongo for arranging for the armless loveseat solution. Better an armless loveseat than a loveless armchair, right? The phone was picked up by a chipper sales woman. “Hi, is Diongo, there, please?”

“He’s out to lunch but should be back shortly.”

He? Wait, beat beat, while my brain did a 180. “When do you expect him back?”

“He should be here by 12:00.”

“Great, I will call back later to speak with him. Thank you!”

Several hours later, I was reassured by Diongo that the spare couch piece would be taken away by the delivery team on Friday.

We returned from the airport where I picked up my Dad and his wife, and we came back to the apartment where they looked at the odd mishmash of sofa pieces and said, “It doesn’t look that bad.”

And it didn’t. we had a lovely three day visit and spent many happy moments talking and napping and watching the Lakers on the loaner sofa. And this morning I drove them off to the airport and came home to nap on the chaise.

Just now, David and Stephen, the white glove team from Crate and Barrel delivered the apartment sofa section that meets with the chaise to form the sectional sofa for which the quest began last September 1st. Ahhhhhhhh. So new and so comfortable; so much more than the Living Spaces couch we have given to our friends and which I can’t think about without the annoying advertising jingle going through my head. Whoever wrote that jingle should be forced to listen to it incessantly as punishment for their creative talents. Probably they do – it is just the kind of ear worm that burrows into your brain and sits tight until it is shoved aside by an equally inane ditty.

I’m ready for my Crate and Barrel ditty contest now.  But first maybe a nap on my new chaise…..

Christmas Eve

I just returned from a magical Christmas eve party – old friends, new friends, family members, food, singing Christmas carols until I no longer had the breath to sing. I was reminded of how fortunate I truly am to be surrounded by such loving friends and colleagues. Tomorrow we will open gifts and eat good food and share remembrances of Christmas past. Again, I am filled with the knowledge that each passing year is richer for being able to do the work I love with people who share the same passion and commitment to the theatre and to living life fully. Embracing the humanity of it.

Hope your Christmas is as special.

I received a facebook post this week from a high school friend who said we should remember that Christmas isn’t happy for everyone – that the stresses of family, job insecurities, poor health and other obstacles mar their enjoyment and that we should share the post by cutting and pasting it. As though reading that didn’t make me stop and think about those people – I needed to copy it and spread it around?

The ups and downs that we face in our lives are what make us alive. The good and bad days  remind us that we are only here for a brief time and it isn’t those events that make us who we are, but the way we see and react to them. That’s what makes it possible for me to enjoy the ridiculousness of the couch debacle this week. It really sucked and made me miserable early in the week, but  I took extra enjoyment from writing about it and sharing it with my friends. It has receded in my rear view mirror even before being completely resolved, like the speed bumps in my old neighborhood. Annoying, but just a part of the drive home.

Tonight, with the echos of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in my heart, I know that there will be future challenges far exceeding the couch story. And I will tackle them one at a time, learning a bit more about how this funny life business works in the meantime.

Merry Christmas!